Elder abuse occurs across domains of ability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, race, and sexual orientation, among other identities. Though there are few studies assessing elder abuse in diverse communities, research suggests that people’s perceptions of mistreatment are impacted by their experiences and environments. Understandings of abuse may also vary based on cultural and social norms among and within communities. For diverse elders, in particular, historical oppression and marginalization endured over a lifetime can impact individual responses to abuse.
These differences influence how mistreatment is defined, described, and addressed. Recognizing how diverse communities perceive abuse and neglect is essential to developing culturally appropriate resources and interventions.
This content aligns with President Biden’s “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” Specifically, the President’s call to recognize and redress systemic disparities among historically underserved and marginalized communities by advancing equitable opportunities, resources, and benefits for all.
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The dynamics of caregiving can provide context for complicated familial relationships that may be associated with an increased likelihood of mistreatment. In diverse communities, the lack of culturally appropriate services and supports can inhibit effective intervention.
Research suggests that lived experiences may impact an older person’s willingness to either report abuse or seek intervention through agencies like law enforcement or Adult Protective Services. For example, older adults who have experienced racism and oppression throughout their lives may be distrustful of agencies that they believe may place their families at risk of being discriminated against on the basis of race.
Other barriers to helping resources include limited access to services and supports, especially those that are culturally and
linguistically appropriate to the needs of specific communities. In addition, some diverse elders are reluctant to report family
members or friends on whom they depend for housing, food, and other essential needs. Many may be embarrassed, unwilling to tell anyone that they have been abused. Others may not want to report a loved one and expose them to the criminal justice system.
One intervention that has been gaining interest is Restorative Justice. Consider: What is our goal when trying to help an older adult in cases of elder mistreatment? Protection? Justice? Healing?
While each is important, few laws and social support services focus on as a primary goal.
The model of restorative justice should be considered when working with diverse communities because it focuses on family
systems and community as an alternative to traditional criminal and court systems. The model supports healing at the individual and community levels and takes into account social determinants of elder mistreatment.
Addressing elder mistreatment with this lens can provide a more equitable approach to addressing elder abuse and neglect.
Advancing Equity in Aging Toolkit (Justice in Aging)
Tribal Elder Protection Team Toolkit (National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative)
Elder Justice & Racial Justice (National Association of Social Workers)
Increasing Access to Healing Services and Just Outcomes for Older African American Crime Survivors (National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life and National Resource Center for Reaching Victims)
Master Plan for Aging Equity Work Group Equity Tool (California Master Plan for Aging)
My Advance Care Plan & Guide for Native Americans (National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative)
Online Modules for those working with Indigenous elders to identify and address elder abuse in Indian country (National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative)
Restorative Approaches to Elder Justice Toolkit (California Elder Justice Coalition)
Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (National Association of Social Workers)
Understanding Disabilities in American Indian & Alaska Native Communities (National Indian Council on Aging)
Last Modified: 01/31/2024